By Abbi Sleeper, Staff Writer
British-based indie rockers, The Kooks, have headed in a new direction with their recently released album Listen. The band’s fourth studio album, Listen, was produced by Inflo, a London hip-hop producer, and shows an obvious broadening of the group’s musical influences.
The Kooks have been known for their unique sound since their debut album, Inside-In/Inside Out, dropped in 2005, partially due to the highly recognizable vocals of lead singer and guitarist Luke Pritchard. Still, their appreciation and knowledge of a wide variety of other musicians and styles has always been evident in their music.
The group’s brit-pop/indie-rock feel has been compared to bands with similar origins, including The Libertines, Thin Lizzy and The Fratellis. But Pritchard and the other founding member, Paul Garred, have cited their original inspirations as The Rolling Stones, The Police and David Bowie (who’s song “Kooks” inspired the band’s name).
The latest album from The Kooks still pays homage to these older influences, but also pulls from the realms of hip-hop, funk, classic rock and gospel.
The album’s opening track, entitled “Around Town” truly sets the tone for the balance of classic Kooks vibe and the experimental new sound listeners can expect from the album as a whole. While “Around Town” features hand claps and quick guitar riffs reminiscent of fellow brit-poppers The Fratellis, the song is ultimately driven by an undeniably funky bass line and background vocals in the form of a gospel choir refrain. This introduction of funk and gospel influences creates a sound that is at once radically new and recognizably The Kooks, which carries through the remainder of the album.
Of the 11 songs on the album, many feature the same funk-driven feel as “Around Town,” mixed with other unique influences. “Sweet Emotion” blends The Kooks’ signature feeling with a jazz-like sound, emphasized by the eventual jazzy piano solo that commands the final bars of the song.
“Forgive and Forget,” meanwhile, takes the general funk undertones of the album to new heights with its disco-groove style. If there was ever a Kooks tune to incite a dance number, “Forgive and Forget” would be it.
The track most obviously influenced by the record’s producer is the markedly hip-hop inspired “Down.” This R&B-esque track brings to mind other British musicians who have branched into the realm of hip-hop, often combining it with their own previously established genres, such as Ed Sheeran and his tracks “Sing” and “Don’t.”
As the most experimental track on the record, “Down” has also been the source of the most controversy surrounding Listen since its drop on Sept. 8. While Paul Tamburro of Crave Online called the song “embarrassing” and claimed that it “put me [Tamburro] off my lunch,” Elisa Bray described the song as “fresh and thrilling” in her interview with the band for The Independent this past week. Whether The Kooks’ venture into the rhythm and blues has paid off or not, “Down” must be acknowledged as one of the biggest musical risks the band has taken since putting out their debut album 10 years ago.
Amongst the Kooks’ entire recorded works, Listen can be defined by not only its notable funk influences, but also its incorporation of electronic instrumentation.
While the band first worked with synthesizers on their third record, Junk of the Heart, in 2011, synth didn’t become such an integral aspect of The Kooks’ music until their most recent album. Nearly every track on the record, from the classic rock-esque “Bad Habit” to the quieter “Westside,” features this new electronic vibe. When merged with the classic Kooks sound, this fresh use of synth occasionally produces an almost Killers-meet-The-Strokes feeling.
Blending their signature Indie brit-pop sound with influences that range from gospel choirs to funk, The Kooks have returned to the stage in a surprising and entirely unique way.